U20 European Championship
After 17 years of drought, Italy is back in the title game of the U20 European Championship after a 77-66 victory over France in the first Semi-Final in Bilbao, Spain.
Italy will take on the winner of the second semi, between Spain and Russia.
France, after back-to-back appearances in the final and the gold medal last year, will fight for the bronze against the loser of the same game.
The Italians will get a chance to win their second gold medal after taking the first trophy back in 1992, when the tournament was first introduced.
In the entire championship France didn't allow any team to score more than 64 points, but against a great team offense by Italy they conceded 77 points, and didn't have the tools to overcome.
Alessandro Gentile served his daily dish with 21 points.
Achille Polonara had 15 points, while 13 of them came in the first three quarters. Andrea De Nicolao had a major step up with 12 points, four assists and some big momentum plays while Riccardo Moraschini finished with 11.
Evan Fournier led France with 19 points but hit only seven shots in 22 attempts, while Leo Westermann added 11 and Joffrey Lauvergne and Wilfried Yeguete had 10 points and nine rebounds each.
Italy held the lead for the vast majority of the game, and was the better team, but France wasn't too far behind as the lead changed hands 11 times and the score was tied 10, yet most of these situations were in the first three quarters.
France were on top for 21 seconds in the closing quarter before Italy took over for the last time.
Nicoló Melli scored the first points for Italy, but after four minutes it was a 2-7 French lead as Fournier scored from the arc and Melli was denied in the paint.
Westermann added a three-pointer himself, but Italy wasn't going to give up easily and De Nicolao combined five points to make it a 9-12 game after a bit more than five minutes.
A 24-second shot clock violation by France showed the Italian defense has a say in the game as well, and Gentile with a big jumper put Italy on top for the first time to cap seven unanswered points.
Westermann with another three-pointer and then an assist to a rare long range hit by Yeguete put the momentum back in the French hands, but only for a moment as Moraschini with a slash and Andrea Traini with a crazy off-balance lay-up to beat the buzzer put Italy on top, 23-20.
Moraschini with a big cross over shook Lauvergne and finished with a dunk to force a French timeout with a 28-22 Italian lead.
The Italian guard continued to dominate as Italy reached 30 points already after 13 minutes with Gentile still at only four points.
Italy spread their points already between nine points to increase the gap to 35-27 but Fournier attacked the rim and reached 11 points to cut the gap by half.
Moraschini, with eight first half points, set the half time score at 42-37,
France stepped up their defense back from the locker rooms, and held Italy on only four points in the first four minutes of the second half, while a fast break dunk by Mael Lebrun tied the score at 46-46.
Lebrun with an even more impressive fast break slam now put France back on top after long minutes, and forced a time out by Italy.
Great hustle by both sides and bodies jumping on loose balls told the story of the game while Fournier and Polonara continued to make things happen and the tiny margin, that jumped from side to side, remained.
De Nicolao with a huge play to cap the third quarter hit a big lay-up and also drew the fourth foul from Westermann, who joined the foul trouble list with Lebrun.
Lauvergne grabbed a big rebound and added points that gave the lead back to France yet that was the last time they were on top.
Gentile stepped up with a big bucket to make it 59-58 and De Nicolao hit a corner three pointer to set the gap on four point, the biggest gap any team held in the second half.
Fournier missed twice in a row while the Italian scorer showed how to get it done with a big three pointer, to make it a seven point game, 65-58.
These points by Gentile set a new tournament high for points allowed by France, but Italy wasn't done yet.
A big shot from the corner by Moraschino pushed the gap to 72-63 and Gentile forced a time out by France that seemed to seal the deal with 2:03 to play.
France lost their focus too early, and looked for quick and extreme solutions, which only helped Polonara to dunk in front of an empty rim for a 76-66 score inside the last minute.